The Direct To Garment industry is a challenging and rewarding one, having come a long way in the last 10+ years. Since the beginning, eager professionals with dollar signs in their eyes have flocked to the promise of simple, efficient and profitable full color garment printing – sadly, the reality of the industry has not always delivered on these promises. My name is Justin Walker and for a long time, I was one of those optimistic industry professionals who was willing to risk everything on a new, largely unproven technology – over the course of more than a decade, I have continued to make and lose small fortunes as I worked toward finding the perfect combination of hardware, software and ink chemistry to maximize my chances of long term success.
A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE IN DTG
My first exposure to Direct to Garment technology was with the original line of T-Jet printers, which had been garnering plenty of attention thanks to the tireless marketing efforts of USSPI. Recognizing some of the inherent shortcomings of these machines at the time, my attention was soon turned to an unreleased product called the Flexi-Jet, developed by Belquette and distributed by All American Screen Supply – after flying to Florida to check it out, I placed my deposit and I was the second person to ever receive this printer as an end user. When I first received my Flexi-Jet DTG printer, it did not even come with white ink (there were only two major ink players at the time, and the R&H formula had a broader CMYK gamut than Dupont, but lacked white ink) – this was not a problem, because running white ink at the time was similar to running sandpaper through your print head. In addition to being one of the earliest adopters of this platform, I was also the first at the time to customize the machine to my liking (I installed a clear viewing port, which will soon be standard on all of our print modules for KatanaDTG, built my own custom platens and I even experimented with a rudimentary pressurized ink system using an aquarium pump and some tubing).
After working with this machine for over a year, I decided to pursue something a little more “industrial”, so I was led to the Kornit line of digital printers. Between myself and several other industry professionals, we were able to purchase 4 Kornit printers to build the foundation of a nationwide, wholesale printing network called ContractDTG – after a little more than a year, I again changed directions (due to hardware issues which have most likely been resolved on more recent versions) and went with a Brother GT-541, which was a “CMYK only” printer. Over the course of the next several years, I purchased a series of Epson-based printers such as the DreamJet series, Neoflex, Mod1 and many more – overall, I have owned at least 15 total DTG printers (sometimes I purchased multiples of certain machines) and a wide array of RIP software to support them… If there was a glimmer of innovation and the hint of improved reliability, I was there – I held no love for any particular brand and I focused only on the end results, in the field.
Early customized viewing port for my first DTG printer, the Flexi-Jet
In addition to traditional DTG printing equipment, I even ventured out into expanded print processes, including (but not limited to) full color custom printing on nails, via the Belquette ImagiNail printer – essentially, I was (and am) interested in anything creative and unique, but I now recognize the real challenge is positioning oneself for long term profitability, regardless of what type of hardware you are running. I have always been the first to acknowledge the potential this technology has to offer, while still maintaining a pragmatic approach where I carefully evaluate the impartial profitability of the process, as a whole. Throughout the years, many people have called or emailed to pick my brain over my wide myriad of experiences, so I went about creating a website called DTG Print Solutions to address answers to some of the more commonly-asked questions I was hearing… This website has grown in audience over the years, and is now well regarded as an excellent starting point for anyone looking to invest in this industry – this was done solely for the interest of educating the general public, long before I ever attempted to dive into the manufacturing side of this industry.
Overall, my experience has been positive and I have had the pleasure of watching the industry continue to develop in terms of hardware reliability, software quality and overall ink / pretreatment chemistry. Despite setbacks along the way, I have always recognized the inherent value to this technology, so I have continued to invest and grow alongside it – in many ways, I am completely “pot committed” (to coin a Poker term) at this point. Up until now, DTG has not always been easy – the technology has not always been up to par and white ink management continues to be a major struggle to this very day… Additionally, the cost of consumables and other factors have prevented some people from experiencing the success they have been promised. For these reasons (and more), I am always very careful to advise anyone interested in this industry to do their due diligence to ensure they are not biting off more than they can chew – a professional with a keen understanding of both sides of DTG will have a much greater chance for success than someone who sees nothing but “rainbows and unicorns” when daydreaming about Direct to Garment printing… If you think this is going to be as easy as pushing a button and printing virtual money, you may want to look elsewhere (wide format print & cut vinyl solutions are always very profitable and reliable).
Having said all that, it is important to realize that the industry has come quite a long way in recent years – consumables costs have gone down significantly (we can’t compete with volume screen printing orders, yet, but the cost-per-liter is considerably better than it was even 5 years ago) and ink chemistry has advanced to allow for much more reliable printing with improved washability. It is important to fully evaluate every aspect of the industry and technology, prior to making any investments or major decisions.
WHAT IS KATANA DTG ALL ABOUT?
Throughout the years, I have developed a number of different philosophies and guidelines to help make DTG printing more profitable – some of these principles are as follows:
- Always have more than one print unit, to ensure maximum uptime and reliability. Redundant production capability is critical to ensuring your overall success.
- Don’t be married to one particular printer to provide for all of your printing needs – in most cases, it will make sense to have separate machines for different purposes, such as large format vs small format, light garment vs dark garment, etc.
- The RIP software is far more important when determining ultimate print quality, when compared to the hardware. Reliable hardware is important for maximum uptime, but the printer itself is not what determines the output quality.
- Proper garment selection is critical to successful DTG printing – poor quality garments will have you chasing your tail for hours trying to figure out why you can’t get reliable and consistent prints, but printing to high quality ring spun cotton will allow for greatly improved output quality and increased consistency between prints (as an added bonus, some high quality garments require less pretreatment volume to achieve a quality print).
My goal with KatanaDTG is to offer the type of hardware solution that I have always wanted, as an end user in the field – I wanted something affordable, reliable, efficient and loaded with all of my favorite features from across all of the DTG printers I have personally owned (and then some). Leveraging my experience in this industry I have been able to put together a line of printers which are not only effective and highly capable of producing top quality prints, but also built to an industrial standard that would make even the most discerning user proud. KatanaDTG printers boast high quality engineering (we spared no expense), practical and useful features, as well as a starting cost that is far below the old industry standard… We are the first company to bring all of the expected bells and whistles at a sub-$10k price point, with our EXPRESS series printers starting at only $5,995! It has never been this easy or this affordable to dive into DTG, while still benefiting from the experience garnered while printing hundreds of thousands of DTG prints over the years…. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who has been as active and prolific in this industry on a consistent, long term basis, who can offer a more common sense solution for the printing community. Our products are designed and manufactured in the USA, ensuring top quality manufacturing and rapid response time for bug fixes and advanced engineering features.
I fully understand there is no “one size fits all” solution for Direct to Garment printing (see my article on DTG Print Solutions from 2014 explaining this), and I strongly encourage anyone looking to dive into this technology to do their homework and truly evaluate the merits of each available system. If KatanaDTG is the right fit for your business model, GREAT! If we are not the right fit for you at this time, I hope you will at least take some of our points and general philosophy into consideration when making your decision, and of course we wish you the best of success in your endeavors! I know you can succeed with any number of awesome equipment that is currently available on the market, provided you have a good RIP and a reliable ink set – it is not my goal to convince you that nobody can do it as well as we can, but rather to impress upon you the value of experience and the well rounded approach we generally promote. I would far rather see you succeed with another brand of equipment than to fail because I fooled you into thinking this was going to be an easy venture – it won’t be! If you are prepared for the journey, well informed and technically capable, then you will do well and we can all participate as the industry moves toward a more promising future for all of us. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats!
I wish you the best in your DTG ventures, and of course, HAPPY PRINTING!
– Justin Walker (Owner and Founder of KatanaDTG)
Check out this cool slideshow which highlights my history, growth and acceptance of this technology….. Keep in mind I am not some random sales person trying to push a particular product – I am just like you, having spent most of my adult life trying to carve a living for myself in a volatile and rapidly expanding market. I have personally been printing on anything and everything I could get my hands on for well over a decade, in an ongoing effort to push DTG to its limit. KatanaDTG is the final culmination of everything I have learned and experienced in the last decade+ of maneuvering this market, and I look forward to helping you achieve your own personal goals: